This coming fall, E will be starting kindergarten. This opens up a new set of decisions for us, as parents. He’s currently in a school program for children with hearing loss and has the opportunity to stay there for kindergarten, as well. Part of me thinks this would be good for him, and part of me thinks he is ready to mainstream, as he is doing so well in school and the cochlear implant has improved his hearing. The next set of decisions revolves around attending public or private school…
I recently had the opportunity to visit a Jewish private school in our community (Washington DC suburbs in Maryland), as they wanted to show me their preschool program. I was extremely impressed with everything the program had to offer. They have a full, rich curriculum that focuses on early literacy, parasha (books of the Torah), Jewish holidays, Hebrew immersion, physical education and cultural arts (art, drama, music). I had a chance to visit the kindergarten classrooms as well. One of the classes was teaching about Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights as part of their curriculum. The room was covered in artwork from the students, and I also got to see some big books the kids were putting together with vocabulary they were learning throughout the year. They also are exposed to the cultural arts programs that the school has to offer, and they learn about different facets of Judaism as well.
Visiting this school introduced many thoughts into my mind. In the past, I had the misconception that Jewish private schools were only teaching about Judaics and not making time for general studies. I was proven wrong during this visit. It was also nice to see kids from my neighborhood, as well as lots of boys wearing kipahs and tzitzit like E currently does and M will soon.
M is currently in a Jewish preschool program in our neighborhood. I’m not sure what goes on there in comparison to what goes on at the school I visited. He brings home artwork and sings all the songs he has learned. His vocabulary has grown so much since he started going there as a toddler (he’ll be 3 soon). The big difference is price though. We’re financially comfortable with what we’re paying now (since financial aid is not available at the preschool level) and we know that he’s happy and the teachers have great reputations. While the preschool program we visited seems wonderful for him (and for our baby girl when she’s ready), the financial commitment involved would eat into both children’s college savings. We have to make similar decisions for M when it comes time to go to elementary school. His current school may be starting a kindergarten program, but I think it’s still in the works. We don’t know what will happen with it in the next two years.
While public school seems to be a better decision in terms of cost (it’s part of the district and doesn’t involve tuition or extra transportation costs, a definite perk for us) and the schools in our region have great reputations, there are other concerns for us if we send both kids on the route to public education.
The first is a social factor. Almost everyone in our neighborhood sends their children to private school. We live in a Modern Orthodox Jewish community and it’s the common thing to do. All the kids at shul are already friends at school, which worries me in terms of cliques forming later on. I don’t want my kids to be excluded from their neighborhood/shul peers, as they currently get along with them when we get together with our friends on Shabbat. There’s also the factor of social pressure from their potential non-Jewish or less observant friends at a public school setting. E was already telling me that he didn’t want to keep Kosher when he gets older because of what he’s missing out on. There will be other things he’ll miss out on, such as sporting events on Friday nights/Saturday afternoons, birthday parties on Saturdays, etc. I worry that he’ll want to give up his values and upbringing to fit in. This could also potentially happen to M.
The next factor is their Jewish and Hebrew education. E goes to Sunday school for two hours every week, but is that going to be enough? We’d like him to know what he’s reading and talking about when he reaches Bar Mitzvah age. We haven’t found any weekly after school programs that would be a fit for his schedule or our level of observance. We’ve tried to find tutors, but for what they charge for an hour a day, we might as well send him to a private school.
I could say that E’s hearing loss needs are an issue, but it’s going to eventually become a crutch, as he is doing so well in that area of his life. We know kids with hearing loss who attend the school I visited. Their needs seem to be accommodated. The kindergarten classroom I visited was carpeted, so the acoustics weren’t an issue. The only concern we still have is that no one will specialized to notice if his hearing is dropping (as he has a condition where that could happen over time). And if his equipment is not working, they might not be able to help him fix the problem. (When he was at a summer camp at a Jewish school this past year, they kept losing his hearing aid and cochlear implant batteries and he would not be able to hear if either device lacked power.)
While we see the overall advantages and disadvantages to public vs. private school, we are once again in a tailspin over what to do for our sons’ future educations. We want the best education possible for both of them and we want them to be happy and thrive throughout their elementary, middle and high school years. Is it ever going to be possible for us to get the best of both worlds?